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Benefits Agency Staff (Scotland)

Dr. Godman: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what are the current staffing levels in local Benefits Agency offices in (a) Inverclyde and (b) Scotland. [111840]

Angela Eagle: As at 25 February, the number of staff employed in Inverclyde is 179, and as at 31 January the number for Scotland was 7,215.

Pensioners (Benefit Take-up)

Mr. Randall: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he is taking to ensure that all pensioners receive the benefits to which they are entitled. [111836]

Mr. Rooker: We will be announcing details of a national campaign, to encourage pensioners to claim their minimum income guarantee, shortly.

Pensioner Incomes

Mr. Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will update his estimates based on the Family Resources Survey 1996-97 of (a) median pensioner incomes, excluding means-tested benefits, by age, sex and marital status, consistent with his answer of 18 January 1999, Official Report, column 372W and (b) the size of each group. [113283]

Mr. Rooker: I refer my right hon. Friend to the written answer I gave to the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) on 8 February 2000, Official Report, columns 128-30W.

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when action will be taken to ensure that all pensioners entitled to income support receive it; and what

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administrative obstacles exist to backdating the resulting awards of benefit to (a) April 1999 and (b) the date when eligibility commenced. [113128]

Mr. Bayley: An announcement of our plans to encourage pensioners to take-up their entitlement to the Minimum Income Guarantee will be made shortly.

There are no administrative obstacles to backdating awards of benefit to April 1999. However, the prescribed time limit for claiming Income Support would prevent any claim made today being backdated to that date. That time limit, even with an extension for special circumstances, could result in payment for no more than three months prior to the date of claim.

Anyone who claims Income Support can be considered for entitlement from the date of his or her claim. Generally this will be the first date that they contact the department to let the Secretary of State know of their intention to claim, provided that they then complete the appropriate claim form and provide the necessary evidence within one month of that first contact. If the customer is in receipt of Retirement Pension, Income Support will be paid on the same day as that Retirement Pension. In such circumstances entitlement to Income Support will begin on the first such payday, which may be later than the date of claim.

Stakeholder Pension

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to consult insurance companies in establishing the stakeholder pension. [111845]

Mr. Rooker: Insurance companies have been actively involved in the extensive consultation undertaken for stakeholder pensions and will shortly be invited to comment on the draft regulations.

Children in Poverty

Mr. Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many children were living in poverty in each of the past 10 years; and what estimate he has made of the number of children living in poverty over the next three years. [113205]

Mr. Bayley: I refer my hon. Friend to the Written Answer I gave him on 21 February 2000, Official Report, columns 790-91W.


Gross Domestic Product Statistics

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what plans he has to publish regional GDP statistics. [112364]

Miss Melanie Johnson: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the Director of the Office for National Statistics. I have asked him to reply.

Letter from John Pullinger to Mr. Matthew Taylor, dated 6 March 2000:

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    ONS last published GDP by Government Office Region (GOR), for years up to 1997, in an ONS News Release in January 1991 1 . An article with additional tables and commentary was published in the March 1999 edition of Economic Trends 2 . Sub-regional estimates of GDP up to 1996 were last published in an ONS News Release in October 1998 3 .

    ONS plans to publish estimates of regional GDP up to 1998 and sub-regional GDP up to 1997 in the summer of 2000.

    1 ONS(99)36. Regional gross domestic product. 29 January 1999.

    2 J. S. Virdee. Regional Accounts 1997: Part 1. Economic Trends No. 544, March 1999.

    3 ONS(98)351. Local area gross domestic product. 22 October 1998.

Licence Evasion

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will estimate the amount of money the Exchequer loses annually through non-payment of (a) television licences, (b) car tax, (c) vehicle insurance and (d) MOT certificates. [111431]

Mr. Timms: It is estimated that around £183 million is lost annually to the Exchequer through non-payment of vehicle excise duty. The loss of revenue through non-payment of MOT test certificates is estimated to be around £870,000.

To help tackle this evasion, DVLA continues to be proactive in improving enforcement regimes and last year recovered £80 million through penalties and fines.

The non-payment of vehicle insurance represents costs to insurance companies. Figures are not available on the costs to the Exchequer, though these costs are likely to be negligible.

The burden of any losses resulting from non payment of TV licence fees fall with the BBC.

Pensions (Economic and Monetary Union)

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on progress made since the 1999 British-Italian conference on considering the effect of EMU on pension provision. [112342]

Miss Melanie Johnson: All Member States of the EU are involved in regular discussions on a range of issues, including pension provision. For example, the Cardiff peer review process ensures that each Member State is assessed on its progress on economic reform, including to pension systems, and a sub-group of the Economic Policy Committee is currently looking at the impact of ageing populations on the sustainability of Member States' public finances.

Employment (EU Membership)

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the number of jobs that are dependent on continued UK membership of the European Union. [112504]

Miss Melanie Johnson: It is estimated that up to 3½ million jobs in the UK are linked, directly and indirectly, to the exports of goods and services to the European Union from the UK.

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Mortgage Lending

Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what arrangements he has to review prudential upper limits on loan-to-value ratios by mortgage lenders; what are the rules of the Treasury in setting prudential limits; if he will obtain and publish copies of the rules of the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority relating to setting prudential limits; and when the prudential limits were last reviewed. [112516]

Miss Melanie Johnson: The Financial Services Authority and the Building Societies Commission are the independent prudential supervisors of banks and building societies respectively. All their prudential notes are publicly available. In carrying out their responsibilities, the supervisors take a wide range of factors into account, which includes assessing lenders' exposure to mortgage risks, and undertake regular reviews of market practice. It is a requirement of authorisation that banks and building societies should run their operations prudently, and they should apply a minimum 50 per cent. risk weighting to assets fully secured on land.

Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) if he will refer the commission and penalty charges levied by the Kensington Mortgage Company to the Financial Services Authority; [112774]

Miss Melanie Johnson: I announced on 26 January that the Treasury would give the Financial Services Authority (FSA) responsibility for regulating most residential mortgages. All mortgage lenders, including those which specialise in the non-status market, will have to be authorised by the FSA, with specific permission to lend on mortgage. All mortgage lenders will have to satisfy the FSA that they are honest, competent, trustworthy and solvent, before permission can be given.

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The FSA will regulate mortgage advertising and require all mortgage lending activity to include specific disclosure of the main features of the loan.

I also announced on 26 January that the Treasury would set new benchmark, CAT standard (cost, access, terms) mortgages for variable and fixed or capped interest rate mortgages. Although voluntary, these will provide a yardstick to help borrowers make better informed, confident mortgage choices and avoid products which have in some cases caused detriment in the past. It is expected that CAT standards will be finalised shortly, following discussions with the mortgage industry.

The FSA will embark on a formal consultation process in the early summer and will consult on detailed rules for mortgage regulations towards the end of the year. Unauthorised mortgage providers will need to apply to the FSA by the middle of 2001, and the FSA expects to have the new regime in place by the third quarter of next year. The Treasury is in frequent contact with the FSA to discuss how these matters are progressing. However, it will be for the FSA to decide whether to initiate investigations into particular areas or firms in the mortgage market, once it has the powers to do so.

In the meantime, all mortgage lenders in the non-status market have to comply with the guidelines issued by the Director General of Fair Trading in November 1997. These guidelines include the need for transparency in all dealings with potential and actual borrowers, and to ensure they do not engage in unfair business practices. Failure to comply with the guidelines could call into question a firm's fitness to hold a consumer credit licence.

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